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When Pat Bowlen gave up control of the Denver Broncos, he had one wish: Keep the franchise in the family. Trouble is, the late sports legend never spelled out which of his eight children should assume ownership. That ambiguity has set off years of Bowlen family infighting and drama worthy of a certain HBO series. In the coming weeks, though, the fate of the $3.75 billion franchise will likely finally be decided: The NFL has given the team until the end of the March to decide on an owner or else cough up millions in fines. Ahead of the long-awaited series finale, we compiled a refresher of the tumultuous succession saga.
July 2014: Pat Bowlen, 70 and battling Alzheimer’s disease, relinquishes day-to-day control of the franchise to a non-familial trust whose ultimate directive is to pick a new owner from among Bowlen’s offspring. The Patrick D. Bowlen Trust triumvirate consists of Broncos president Joe Ellis, team counsel Rich Slivka, and Mary Kelly, Pat’s personal attorney.
May 2018: The public bickering begins after Beth Bowlen Wallace, Pat’s second-oldest child, expresses interest in the owner’s box. Pat’s brothers and eldest daughter, Amie Klemmer, (minority owners) back Bowlen Wallace. However, the trust deems her “unqualified” because, in part, she hasn’t worked for the franchise for at least five years, a requirement for assuming power. But that’s only due to the fact that her position with the Broncos was terminated in 2015, after three years. Bowlen Wallace says she was fired after informing the team she would be pursuing an advanced degree, another ownership prerequisite. The trust claims her job was axed for other, unspecified reasons.
October 2018: Pat’s third-youngest child, Brittany Bowlen, says she wants to lead the Orange and Blue. The trust doesn’t immediately anoint the then-28-year-old the successor, but Ellis says, “She’s taken some steps, some good steps along the way in terms of education.”
October 2018: Bill Bowlen, one of Pat’s brothers, files a lawsuit in Arapahoe County District Court to remove Ellis, Slivka, and Kelly as trustees, claiming the trio wasn’t upholding his brother’s wishes. Annabel Bowlen, Pat’s second and final wife who is also battling Alzheimer’s, responds two months later with a motion to intervene, alleging they are upholding Bowlen’s wishes.
June 2019: Pat dies at the age of 75.
August 2019: Arapahoe County dismisses Bill’s lawsuit.
September 2019: On the eve of Brittany’s wedding, Beth and her older sister file a lawsuit to invalidate the trust, claiming Pat didn’t have the mental capacity to approve it when it was empowered in 2009. Due to a no-contest clause Pat baked into his estate planning, challenging the trust puts the two at risk of being disinherited.
December 2019: Brittany joins the Broncos front office as vice president of strategic initiatives.
December 2019: Ellis threatens that if the other siblings—who are minority owners—don’t sign off on Brittany as the owner, the trust would have to consider selling the team to ensure a smooth transfer of power.
July 2021: Beth and Amie file a motion to dismiss the lawsuit. No public word on whether they were cut out of Bowlen’s will.
July 2021: The NFL gives the Broncos until March 2022 to select a new sole trustee or face millions in fines. With the Bowlen children still fighting over the owner’s suite—Ellis tells the Denver Post, “I don’t think [Brittany Bowlen] being the sole trustee is realistic”—the team’s sale begins to appear imminent.
September 2021: Big shots such as Peyton Manning, Jeff Bezos, and Jay-Z reportedly begin to eye the team.
December 2021: Bloomberg reports that the Broncos have started interviewing investment banking firms to facilitate a sale. Currently valued by Forbes at $3.75 billion, the Broncos are predicted to fetch a record price for a professional franchise.
January 2022: A Denver district court judge voids the “right of first refusal” agreement between Pat and the former owner Edgar Kaiser Jr., who died in 2012. Kaiser’s heirs claim the two men made a personal pact in the 1980s, which would have given Kaiser’s estate the right to match any offer if the team were to be sold. The legal ruling clears any remaining red tape to open the Broncos up to bidders.